After 91 asbestos warning signs were put up at the Stamford Police Department in December, union President Todd Lobraico prompted members to file preemptive claims with the state’s Workers Compensation Commission. Since then, there have been a staggering 285 claims filed by active and retired officers. President Lobraico has said that approximately 30 more claims are forthcoming.
Although none of the officers have exhibited symptoms associated with asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma, the filings are meant to be the first step in the legal processes that would result from the diagnoses of such illnesses. “The officers are making the city aware they were exposed to asbestos, and they want to protect themselves in the future if they are diagnosed with illnesses that are known to be caused by exposure to asbestos,” explained Awilda Quesada, manager of the local Workers Compensation Commission office, who also said that the influx of claims is unlike anything she has seen in her 15 years at her post.
“This protects their rights to continue the claim at a future date, should there be some diagnosis of an ailment that a doctor directly attributes to an exposure,” added Workers Compensation Commission Chairman John Mastropietro.
Each claim simply stated that the officer had been exposed to the toxin at the police headquarters; no mention of a potential future illness was made. “Every time you go into the building, you see the danger signs, and that concerned our members,” said President Lobraico. “I am just hoping that there will never be a need to file a claim relating to this asbestos problem, but our members have to protect themselves.”
The issue began after an HVAC contractor discovered asbestos at the station last May. Since then, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has been investigating the contamination at the headquarters, while city officials actively search for a new location for the police department. “We understand that OSHA is satisfied that the workplace is safe for those in the building,” stated City Corporate Council Kathryn Emmett. “It is our expectation and everyone’s hope that there will be no future illnesses as a result of asbestos.”
The city has denied all the claims on account of the fact that there have been no illnesses reported, but recently, officers who filed claims have received letters informing them that they have until the end of March to be tested for asbestos at a medical facility. This is a preemptive measure by the city to prepare for the possibility of future personal injury claims.
“We are not denying anyone’s claim because of any lack of concern about people in the police department,” Emmett said. “We are very concerned about the health of those working there.”